Nazi hunter denounces Austria as a 'paradise for war criminals'

A director of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre has described Austria as a "paradise for Nazi war criminals" and bitterly criticised its government and legal authorities for failing to bring suspected Holocaust perpetrators to justice.

Efraim Zuroff, the director of the centre's Jerusalem branch, accused Austria of being utterly complacent. "Austria is a paradise for Nazi war criminals," Mr Zuroff told a press conference in Vienna. "Its investigation of suspects is inadequate and the legal position is outrageous. In Austria war criminals are freely able to talk about their crimes," he added.

Mr Zuroff's broadside followed a meeting he held yesterday with the Austrian Interior and Justice ministers as part of the Wiesenthal Centre's Operation Last Chance, which is trying to bring elderly Nazi war crimes suspects to trial before they die.

The Wiesenthal Centre has identified 83 suspects in Austria who are still alive. But Mr Zuroff said that the 77 suspects currently being investigated by the Austrian authorities were being dealt with "slowly and passively" and that little effort was being made to press charges against them.

They include Aribert Heim, a medical doctor who experimented on Jewish prisoners at the Mauthausen concentration camp; Millivoj Asner, a former Croatian police officer suspected of sending hundreds to the death camps and Erna Wallisch, a concentration camp guard who allegedly escorted prisoners to the gas chambers.

Of the three, Heim is the most notorious Nazi still on the run. He murdered hundreds of prisoners at the Mauthausen camp by conducting gratuitous medical experiments on them during the seven weeks that he spent there in 1941.

A court that tried Heim in his absence in 1979 concluded that he "wallowed in the fear of death suffered by his victims" while performing brutal operations on fully conscious prisoners. Austria launched a criminal investigation into his case in 1957. He is now 91 and there have been alleged sightings of him in South America, Egypt, Spain and Germany.

However, Mr Zuroff said yesterday that he had been told by Karin Gastinger, the Austrian Justice Minister, that "a new law" would be needed if Austria was to contribute to increasing the $325,000 (£180,000) reward currently offered by Germany and the Wiesenthal Centre for information leading to Heim's arrest.

"We don't need a new law to be passed. We need action," Mr Zuroff said. "If Heim is caught alive and brought to justice, there is no question that it will be the most important Nazi war crimes trial in 30 years," he added.

Mr Zuroff also accused the Austrian authorities of dragging their feet in the case of Asner, who holds dual Austrian and Croatian citizenship.

Croatia charged Asner with crimes against humanity last year and asked Austria to extradite him to stand trial. Austria refused on the ground that he held Austrian citizenship.

"The terrible reality of this country is that Asner cannot be brought to trial in Austria for his crimes," Mr Zuroff said. "Austria owes it to the victims of the Nazi regime to to do everything in its power to bring suspected war criminals to justice," he added.

The Austrian government would not comment on Mr Zuroff's criticisms yesterday.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Home Care / Support Workers

£7 - £10 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This care provider is looking for Home ...

Recruitment Genius: Web Team Leader

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the UK's leading web des...

Recruitment Genius: Client Manager

£27000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A growing, successful, friendly...

Recruitment Genius: Property Negotiator - OTE £20,000+

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family owned, independent ...

Day In a Page

Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate